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Political Mobilization and Conflict on Kenya's Coast: Land, Indigeneity and Elections


Throughout the early 1990s, Kenya experienced several episodes of so-called ethnic violence amidst its return to multiparty elections in 1992. Prior to August 1997, the violence was largely limited to the Rift Valley, Nyanza and Western Provinces. Yet on August 13, 1997, armed raiders attacked the Likoni Police Station and Post, just south of Mombasa, commencing a period of episodic violence on Kenya's Coast lasting more than a year. To investigate the causes and characterization of pre-election violence on Kenya's Coast, this essay undertakes an extensive literature review, focusing on the construction of ethnic identity, the indigeneity discourse and political mobilization and violence, as well as a review of reports from Kenya's government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the East African Standard newspaper. Ultimately, this essay determines that manipulation by political elites, land dispossession and economic marginalization played major roles in pre-election violence on Kenya's Coast. Furthermore, the violence was characterized by an underlying discourse of indigeneity, with ethnic entrepreneurs tying ethnicity to entitlement and positioning the Mijikenda as indigenous to the Coast and upcountry migrants as foreigners. Such exclusionary politics set the stage for violence on Kenya's Coast in 1997 and remain relevant contemporarily, with the potential to resurface violently.

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